N.T. Wright has probably had more influence on my thinking than any other Christian writer or theologian in recent years. In a way he’s succeeded C.S. Lewis as my theological mentor. Yet I was reminded of Lewis in a contrarian way when reading How God Became King. Lewis wrote somewhere that every new publishing season brings a book from someone claiming to have really understood Shakespeare’s plays for the first time – the corollary, as I vaguely remember it, being that you should beware not only of that person but of the person who tells you they are reading the Bible correctly for the first time and getting right what the church has always got wrong. Yet this is almost exactly what N.T. Wright claims in this book, and I don’t find myself disagreeing with him.
Wright’s contention — not particularly startling — is that Christian doctrine focuses on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, without putting enough emphasis on His life, and depends heavily on a theology of salvation that is drawn from Paul’s epistles more than from the gospels. The church, he argues, doesn’t really know what to do with most of the material in the gospels, and thus has not truly engaged with them. Thus, Wright says, most Christians have missed what the gospels are really about — about the kingdom of God, or God establishing His rule on earth through the person and life of Jesus.
His focus here is primarily on his own, Anglican, tradition: in the Anglican as in other creedal churches, the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds famously (or infamously) skip directly from the Virgin Birth to Jesus’ death with no mention of His teaching or ministry. But the same is true of the conservative evangelical churches: even those of us who don’t say the creeds hang our theology heavily on the cross and on Paul’s statements about atonement. Jesus’ life is, at best, a good example, but an example we can’t really follow because of our sinfulness, which fortunately His death saves us from. Why, then, waste so many pages telling the story of that life?
Wright argues that if Jesus’ story is seen in proper focus — as the culmination of Israel’s history, as the breaking-in of God’s rule as the ultimate challenge to the powers of this world — then it becomes of ultimate importance to Christians. I find myself very drawn to this argument, as I am to most of Wright’s teaching, although I wish he had worked out more fully the implications of what it mean to be living in God’s kingdom now, in a world where evil still seems often to be in control.
Though you may be suspicious of anyone tells you that they’re going to reveal what generations of Christians have missed in the gospels, keep an open mind and read this book. N.T. Wright is a breath of fresh air in much of Christian theology, and what he has to say about the rule of God ushered in by Jesus might inspire you as it does me.